SALEM — Officials in Oregon are accusing the federal government of going behind their backs to undermine a plan to clean up toxic pollution along the Willamette River in Portland.
In January, two weeks before President Barack Obama left the White House, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced a final $1.05 billion cleanup plan for a 10-mile stretch of the Willamette River that became polluted from a century of industrial use.
But the EPA, under President Donald Trump, has been negotiating part of the plan with some of the companies responsible for cleanup, Richard Whitman, the director of the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, complained in a letter to a regional EPA boss on Thursday.
Gov. Kate Brown made the letter public on Monday. She urged the EPA “to honor its commitment to work collaboratively and transparently with the state, city, and all responsible parties.”
In his letter, Whitman told Michelle Pirzadeh, acting regional EPA administrator in Seattle, that the changes could lead to “significant additional delays in the implementation of any remedy.”
Whitman said a draft agreement between the EPA and some companies responsible for the cleanup calls for more sediment samples to be taken, and for fish consumption rates to be updated. He said such tactics appear intended to call into question the underpinnings of the cleanup plan announced in January. Furthermore, Whitman wrote that the federal agency’s failure to coordinate and consult violates a memorandum of understanding between federal, state and tribal parties.
Mark MacIntyre, spokesman for the EPA’s regional office, had no immediate comment. He said he was seeking information from EPA headquarters in Washington, D.C., but noted that Monday was a federal holiday.
In an email to Pirzadeh, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler and Commissioner Nick Fish said they are deeply troubled that state, tribal and local stakeholders have been excluded from an opportunity to review changes in plans.
The polluted stretch of river is called the Portland Harbor Superfund Site. Superfund sites are contaminated areas identified by the federal government as candidates for cleanup.
“We must move forward with the cleanup of the Portland Harbor, but the federal administration’s latest direction to the EPA undermines the progress we’ve made,” Brown said.